Community Service in Graduate School

By Abbie Turner

Make a Change

Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash

Participating in volunteer work and community service can be a great addition to your graduate school experience. New York City has a particularly large number of opportunities for people who are ready to help. Whether you sign up through NYC Cares, which compiles a fairly comprehensive list of volunteer events around the city, or independently find a cause, volunteer work can be a simple way to round out your resume.

Why volunteer?

Gain work experience

Volunteering can help you learn new and practical work skills without the formal commitment of a full- or part-time job. This is a great way to build your CV or resume while still in graduate school.

Make friends

Working with other volunteers allows you to meet people outside of the Graduate Center who care about similar causes.

Learn about American culture and organizations

Particularly for international students, volunteering provides the opportunity to learn about American culture and organizations. International students should check in with our Office of International Students to learn more about volunteering options.

Demonstrate a commitment to service

Many employers will want to see service activity on your CV or resume. This shows you are a caring, well-rounded person who is invested in their community.

Pursue interests outside of academia

Some graduate students can become consumed with their research and forget the other interests and activities they value. Volunteer opportunities can align with your hobbies and make sure you engage in them.


Fellow volunteers and organizers can become future professional connections and references. If you’re looking for a career in the nonprofit sector, cultivating these networks will be especially valuable.

How can I fit volunteering into my already-packed schedule?

Graduate students have a lot on their plates already. If you’re nervous about adding another time commitment to your schedule, start with smaller or more temporary commitments until you are comfortable dedicating more time. Remember to be realistic and honest about the type of commitment you can make. While volunteering is a time commitment, it can actually help you structure your schedule during periods of intense dissertation writing, while also getting you out of the house.

If you need help finding motivation, consider signing up for a project with a friend who can hold you accountable.

Where can I find opportunities?

These two sources include a broad range of opportunities; signing up is easy and streamlined:

  • NYC Cares provides hundreds of volunteer opportunities around the city, supporting all kinds of causes.
  • DEED app simplifies the sign-up process and helps you search for opportunities by date and by the types of skills you’d like to contribute. You can connect with friends on the app and allow push notifications for opportunities you’ve registered for.

For more specific causes, check out some of these organizations:

  • City Harvest helps ensure that good food doesn’t go to waste in NYC.
  • CUNY Citizenship Now helps immigrants apply for citizenship.
  • HIAS provides translation and interpretation services to help resettle refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Housing Works supports New Yorkers living with and affected by HIV/AIDS and homelessness.
  • Let’s Get Ready offers SAT tutoring and college access coaching.
  • Planned Parenthood has been a beacon of hope for the thousands of individuals and families who rely on us for essential sexual and reproductive health care, innovative educational programs, and effective advocacy. 
  • Skype a Scientist places scientists in classrooms around the world to explain to students what it’s like to be a scientist.